The Interior Castle: The Art and Life of Jean Stafford

The Interior Castle: The Art and Life of Jean Stafford

by Ann Hulbert
     
 

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An important moment in American literary history takes life in this stunning biography of Jean Stafford, one of the most successful, admired--and troubled--of the brilliant and influential midcentury circle of writers and critics that included Allen Tate, Caroline Gordon, Peter Taylor, Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell, and Robert Lowell, Stafford's first husband. Ann

Overview

An important moment in American literary history takes life in this stunning biography of Jean Stafford, one of the most successful, admired--and troubled--of the brilliant and influential midcentury circle of writers and critics that included Allen Tate, Caroline Gordon, Peter Taylor, Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell, and Robert Lowell, Stafford's first husband. Ann Hulbert shows us how Stafford, raised in Colorado, the daughter of a failed writer of Westerns, came of literary age in the East, yet fiercely maintained her connection with her provincial background, forging the unique style that marked her highly acclaimed first novel, Boston Adventure; her Masterpiece, The Mountain Lion; her third novel, The Catherine Wheel; and the stories she published in The New Yorker and elsewhere, which were honored in 1970 with a Pulitzer Prize. We follow Stafford through the early experiences to which she returned again and again in her fiction, and which helped shape her disenchanted vision--her father's sudden loss of his fortune; her shame as an adolescent, living in a boardinghouse in Boulder run by her mother; her aesthetic experimentation as a member of the intellectually maverick "Barbarians" at the University of Colorado; her exciting but troubling Wanderjahr in Nazi Germany, where she watched civilization crumbling. We see her take her place as a forceful, attractive, witty, yet also insecure woman among a group of spirited young writers who were learning from and challenging their older mentors--the increasingly powerful Southern critics and the Partisan Review circle in New York. With her marriage to Lowell at twenty-four, she embarked on a feverishly creative but ill-fated coursethat held auguries of his and his fellow poets' tragic paths: she struggled with Catholicism, confronted domestic violence, battled with alcoholism and mental instability, and throughout it all wrote formally impeccable fiction. And we see her as she finds some happiness with her third husband, the writer A. J. Liebling, part of the New Yorker world that had become her home in the late 1940s. Throughout, we are made aware of Stafford's constant search for a bastion of order--a safe place, an escape from the unsettling sense of vulnerability that engulfed her, an interior castle--from which to approach her life and her art.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This searching, comprehensive portrait of the witty, troubled novelist and short story writer whose work and life captured the dark spirit of a particular place and time--New York literary circles of mid-century--is disappointingly flat. Hulbert, a senior editor at the New Republic , traces her subject's childhood in Colorado and California, probing Stafford's uneasy family relationships, particularly with her father, a failed writer, and follows the writer East and into her marriages to Robert Lowell, Oliver Jensen and A. J. Liebling. Throughout, events in Stafford's life, including long stays in psychiatric institutions and her struggles with alcohol, are related to her writing, with clarification drawn from her correspondence with such friends as Peter Taylor. While Hulbert illuminates the painful conflicts of Stafford's efforts to remain true to her literary calling and find peace in her everyday life, that dilemma is still most clearly expressed in the problems Stafford poses, and does not solve, for the characters in her stories. Stafford was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her collected short stories in 1970; she died in 1979 at the age of 64. Readers Subscription Book Club main selection. (May)
Library Journal
Hulbert, senior editor at The New Republic , paints a vivid portrait of the conflicted, troubled life of Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction writer and journalist Jean Stafford. She dramatizes the central struggles of Stafford's life: her attempt as a writer to contain and interpret her past--particularly her relationship with her father--so that she could use it productively in her fiction, her continual battle to achieve a balance between her needs as woman and as writer, and her inability to resolve the tension between drives toward isolation and belonging. We see Stafford fight for a precarious hold on life, perpetually ready to break apart under the pressures of poor health, failing marriages (the first of which was to Robert Lowell), alcoholism, and unachieved literary goals, but Hulbert never resorts to the sensationalism of David Roberts's Jean Stafford: A Biography ( LJ 6/15/88). She avoids jargon and reductive readings while providing a thorough analysis of Stafford's work and its literary context, complementing Charlotte Goodman's feminist approach in Jean Stafford: The Savage Heart ( LJ 6/1/90). Highly recommended. --Ellen Finnie Duranceau, MIT Lib.
Booknews
A reprint of the Knopf edition of 1992 (reviewed by Kirkus, 3/1/92; PW 3/16/92; Booklist 6/15/92; LJ 5/15/92). Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780804151238
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/09/2013
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
432
File size:
5 MB

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